Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not Taking It Seriously...

Not Taking It Seriously...
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
The first decent day, this summer, and a chance to stretch the legs over the West Pennine Moors.

We left the car in Rivington and climbed over Winter Hill to Belmont where we had lunch at the Black Dog Pub, before heading back over the hill via Rivington Pike. A great walk, and I felt a lot better for it.

Now, if only I can get some people to take this sort of thing seriously....

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Change In The Weather?

The weather forecast for this weekend is looking a bit better than it has been throughout this week. For those living with the floods it could be an opportunity to get back to homes and businesses and start to assess damage and its effect on lives. For all those affected, I hope they can resume their lives.

For me, this weekend, it will be an opportunity to get out for a decent length walk. Unfortunately, I'm working on Saturday, but Sunday is looking good, and a brisk walk over the hills will be a good step up. It'll also give some quiet time to Christine, who had a carpel tunnel operation this week and is not able (or allowed) to do very much.

What I would like to do is walk from Rivington, over Winter Hill to Belmont, have lunch at the Black Dog, then walk back over the hill. The great barn, in Rivington, on a Sunday, is a meeting place for bikers and there is generally a Bar-B-Que and a chance to check out bikes and meet people. If the weather holds up, it should be a great walk.
Biker Afternoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Britain's Katrina

As large tracts of southern England spend another submerged day, it is becoming clearer how ramshackle the response has been. The success of meeting the demands of the situation were down, more to luck and the dedication and skill of many in the emergency services, than design.

A report in 2004 made clear that the diversity of responsibility in the face of a natural disaster leads to confusion, delay and potential loss of life. It recommended that the Environment Agency would, in situations such as we are seeing today, take overall responsibility for co-ordination and decision-making.

In 2005, the Government agreed to this and said it would be in place by summer of 2006. We are still waiting.

Now I don’t believe that this is due to lack of Government concern or care, it was just that it was not a priority, and with a hot summer in 2006, followed by cabinet in-fighting, the risk of flooding receded. But this year, the flooding has been the worst since 1947, and the problems have been made worse by the way development and growth has been managed - Green Belt development and house building on ‘desirable’ green field sites, mean there is less land for the water to soak into.

Gordon Brown has already announced the intention to build 240,000 homes over the next 10 years or so – many of those have been earmarked to flood plains which, from where I sit, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Clearly we need houses, but much more thought is required at the planning stage into foreseeable environmental problems, as well as social issues, and their solutions. Clearly, not everything can be planned for, but much can, it just requires will.

Monday, July 23, 2007

And Then The Waters Came!

Large areas of Southern and Eastern England are under water after some of the heaviest rainfall to hit the UK in half a century. Last Thursday saw an unprecedented "one month's" rain in less than 3 hours, and it has continued to rain since then. Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire is the meeting point of the River Avon and Severn, and as a result of both rivers bursting their banks, the town is now, effectively, an island.

Unfortunately, although the rain has eased off, both those rivers are fed from Wales, and so there is likely to be a flood surge over the next few days. Emergency services are in full flow, but there are real problems now emerging. The most ironic is a scarcity of drinking water! Large tankers are being brought in to help with the supply, and food is being brought in. The government has agreed to offset 100%, local authority clean-up costs in all emergency areas, which should mean a quicker and more efficient response to need - lets just hope that the insurance companies (which make big fat profits each year) are just as quick.

However, the problems that remain are practical and unsettling for those involved, and will be with them for many months to come. Saturated homes which will take months to dry out; lost crops in the farms, businesses not able to do business and just the general mess and muck something like this brings.

Finally, I hope this will bring about a re-think on planning for weather driven disasters. Building on flood-plains needs to be assessed. Flood-plains existed to allow rivers to burst their banks and let the surrounding ground to soak up the over-flow. Better flood defenses, with more thought going into how water can be channelled away from population centres. Clearly, I'm no expert on these things, but we can't keep allowing our country to drown each time El Nino decides to burp!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Four-Wheeled Idiots

I have only been riding my bike for a month or so, but I am already aware that, as a biker, I "share" the road with a whole range of imbecilic "drivers".

Twice, I have had someone pull out in front of me without once looking to see if anyone was coming. Mind you, the drivers were very busy on their hand-held mobile phones at the time, which probably is a good enough excuse. But what about the woman busy in an animated conversation with her friend, who changed lanes without realising that I was alongside her at the time! Maybe I am being unfair, as she did have one hand on the wheel, while using the other to describe what she was talking about, and of course, she had to look at her friend/partner to ensure she got the point.

No, it is the "faffyness" of drivers that gets to me! Do drivers not realise that crawling at 2 mph is very difficult for a motorcyclist. The other day, I was in a queue, when the cars in front started to crawl forward - not very far or very fast, so I decided to wait until the queue started to move properly before attempting to move off. Eventually, there was a gap of about six to ten feet in front of me and it was at this point that the wazzock behind me beeped his horn! Now I was both enraged by his idiocy while admiring his bravery. Beeping a large hairy (well in my case - hairless) biker is likely to lead to a short ride to the nearest hospital. In this particular instance, I took pity on his mental illness and just gave him the finger. Sensibly, he left it at that.

Another guy was indicating right - and turned left; someone else turning right, but not moving over to the middle of the road (of course, I am describing driving in Britain where we drive on the proper side of the road) and of course, the nightmare that is the "school run"!

But I am left with the impression of how bad drivers are - something I hadn't really noticed before, and I am aware at how well my driving in general has improved since taking up the bike. I have greater road sense and awareness now and my road positioning and signalling is a lot more clear (the number of drivers that don't indicate on round-abouts are legion). I now also understand the desire of bikers to get to the front of the queue - it helps to keep them away from the idiots. In the UK, there is a big debate about congestion charges, and of course the majority of drivers are up in arms about it, but lets face it, cars cause congestion - bikes don't.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Like A Virgin

Like A Virgin
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Moving on up the bike size. I'm about to have my first ride on a 500cc motorbike. It was absolutely fabulous. At one point I was feeling so great I let it all out in one great expletive filled scream - good job no-one could hear me!

Why didn't I do this sooner?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago, Christine and I got married. It is important to say that I have never regretted a day of those years. Many ups with very few downs, and I love her as much today as the day she refused to say "I obey" at the altar steps!

Two children and a move away from our beloved Wirral to Wigan and the adventures continue. The time seems to have flown by - frighteningly so and who knows what will happen tomorrow, but I don't care as long as it is with this woman. All I can say is that I am looking forward to the next 15 years.

By the way, our grateful thanks to all America for joining us in celebrating our marriage, you do it every year and it means so much!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Thick As Thieves

Former White House aid and criminal Lewis "Scooter" Libby has, in the face of a jury and a number of senior judges, had his sentence commuted by George Bush. No longer will he have to serve a prison sentence for his treasonable role in obstructing an inquiry into the leaking of a CIA agent's name.

Makes me wonder what form of blackmail was used to twist Bush's arm. I wonder if Libby had actually gone to jail, he might have started talking about the rogues that dumped him in that situation. There does seem a major air of desperation and cover-up over this, because if there was nothing to hide, then there would have been nothing to fear and America's "Rule of law" President would not have got involved.

Come on America, the Bush is now on the run - get after him before its too late and he causes any more damage.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Under Attack

Over the past few days, terrorism has, again, raised its ugly head. Two car bombs were discovered in London over the weekend and a third attack took place at Glasgow Airport which did go off, but did very little damage and no loss of life. Those are the basic facts of the case, and there are a lot of reports and information about them, which I don't want to go into here.

I was more interested in the nature of the public's response to these criminal attempts. We, in the UK, have lived with terrorism and terrorist attacks for a long time - certainly we have had the car bomb since the late 60's when the IRA stepped up it's attacks in both Northern Ireland and the UK mainland. More recently, we suffered, attacks in July 2005 which killed and maimed a lot of people (and incidentally, was the subject of my very first post). We must be one of the most terrorised and fearful countries in the Western World.

So if we are terrorised, why aren't we showing it? We do we always have the same spirit after these attacks - "it isn't going to make me change what I do, or where I go" is the general refrain from people. Even when the guts of Manchester city centre were destroyed by the IRA in the 1996, people were more concerned that the reconstruction of the city was better than what went before (it could hardly be worse!).

What is really fascinating is that there doesn't seem to be any deep-rooted anger or hatred of the perpetrators - in some way, we feel sorry for them - but that is not to say that we don't get angry at all. And when we do get angry, it is because we know that the attacks will provide ammunition to those who want to screw ever more tightly the "security" lid on our society, couched in friendly terms as "protection of the innocents".

Just being alive is a risk, and these sad, stupid people just make that risk a bit bigger, but most of us accept that at a personal level, we can do very little but carry on with our lives. To the security forces, yes, protect me, but don't swaddle me or constrict my freedoms through fear or physical restriction, because if you do, then the terrorist wins. I intend to continue to do the things I like doing, and enjoying the good things this beautiful world can offer. It saddens me, that these people do not seem to be able to appreciate the goodness and beauty of the world that I see every day.